Thursday, September 5, 2013

Barbed Wire City: The Unauthorized Story of ECW

Directors: Kevin Kiernan & John Philopavage
Released: 4/13

Don E. Allen, Angel, Bob Artese (Announcer / staff), John “Hat Guy” Bailey (fan), Blue Meanie, Charlie Bruzzese (production), Billy Corgan, Steve Corino, Tony DeVito, Danny Doring, Shane Douglas, Sign Guy Dudley, John Finnegan (referee), Kathy Fitzpatrick (staff), Joel Gertner, Tod Gordon, Johnny Grunge, Missy Hyatt, Mike Johnson (PWInsider), Mark Keenan, Wade Keller (PWTorch), Dan Kowal (staff), Ronnie Lang (security), Tony Lewis (fan), Jerry Lynn, Balls Mahoney, Dave Meltzer, Bruce Mitchell (PWTorch), New Jack, Nova, Jason Powell (, Dave Scherer (PWInsider), Raven, Rhino, Stevie Richards, Rocco Rock, Axl Rotten, The Sandman, Gabe Sapolsky, Frank Talent (Penn. Athletic Commission), Michael Tearson (radio show host), Mikey Whipwreck, Joe Wilchak (security), Ed Zohn (staff)

The Good
ECW is simply one of the most fascinating movements that pro-wrestling has ever seen.  Despite its short run, limited audience and niche product, it has this massive legacy that people are still cashing in on years later.  Curiously, the period between ECW’s death and the release of this documentary is greater than the period in which ECW existed.  That should indicate something about the influence of ECW, but also the scope of this doc.  When the WWE released the “Rise and Fall of ECW,” it was a huge success to the point that it led them to do the One Night Stand shows and eventually create an ECW brand.  The “Hardcore Forever” documentary that was released around the same time was a nice compliment, it had a different group of people, but it lacked footage.  This production is, simply put, amazing in many ways, but I will highlight three.  First, it maximized resources amazingly.  These interviews were shot over a long period of time, the footage was RF Video Fan Cam footage, the footage from panel / fanfest events, the still photos were animated and this will perhaps be the first in a long line of crowdfunded docs about pro-wrestling.  Second, the scope of perspectives is incredible.  The WWE production had a number of people who were never involved, this had wrestlers and personnel, it also had security, fans and journalists.  Although one could argue that it lacked many key voices, it told a story masterfully with the voices it had.  Third, it did not purely romanticize ECW.  This is a common trap and this doc explored the positives and tackled the negatives.  In showing a balance, this really gave itself credibility that the WWE documentaries seem to lack.  Whether you liked ECW or not, this documentary is worth checking out because it is so well done.

The Bad
The obvious knock on this documentary would be the talent that is not interviewed.  It is a substantial number of key people, but most of them gave their perspectives in the “Rise and Fall of ECW” or the “Forever Hardcore” documentaries.  I am curious why they did not tap into shoot interviews that are already out there.  It seems like since they worked with RF Video to use the Fan Cam footage, they could have also dipped into their vast collection of extensive shoot interviews.  They did a great job using Fanfest footage of Paul Heyman to give him a more active role in this, but it seems like they might have done that for others.  I have also heard the complaint that they relied on journalists too much, although if you think about it, those people tend to provide the most objective and coherent perspective.  Their tying this to the Extreme Reunion/Rising promotion seems to date it.  However, they are trying to convey ECW’s unusual legacy and a reunion more than a decade later seems to demonstrate that fact.  When you look at this and recognize its limitations, it seems like a documentary that, like the company it is exploring, was fighting an uphill battle and trying to simply produce something for the fans even if there is little money made.  This is a labor of love.

The Rating: *****

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